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Chelsea Pro: Selfish motivations

by Chelsea Pro

In this clip, we see Grace offering to work for the residents of Dogville in return for harboring her safely in their town. Even though the people of Dogville tell Grace they don’t need any help, she insists on serving them in any way she can. Grace informs Tom that her endeavor is not going very well because “nobody needs any help.” Her tone implies that she faults the townspeople for not having any work for her to do. Grace’s insistence to help despite the town’s adamant rejections is a powerful example of her sacrificial behavior. Even though the town doesn’t ask for her to do anything, she feels a personal need to give something of herself in order to validate her stay in their town.

Grace’s offer of service is a subconscious veil to make her feel better about endangering the people of Dogville. She wants to work for the people to settle the debt she feels that she owes them. But the work that she offers them is inconsequential to their lives. Nobody needs anything that Grace is offering. She acts selfishly by staying in the town and endangering the people even though she gives them nothing of substance in return. Grace knows of her own inadequacies, which is why she bears the rape and abuse. There is nothing else she feels she can give the town.

Although this scene takes place in one setting, there seem to be two separate conversations going on: one in which Grace complains to Tom that no one will help her, and another in which Grace attempts to impress the townspeople with her charity. Von Trier uses close-ups during both of these conversations to portray their intimacy and the characters’ emotions and reactions. When Grace talks to Tom, someone she feels might genuinely be trying to help her, the camera focuses on only the two of them, even though we know the other characters are still there listening. But in this faked private environment, Grace tells Tom, “This plan to make everybody like me has run into a few problems, because nobody wants me to work for them” in an accusatory tone. Then we cut directly to Grace turned towards the Dogville residents, as she tells them, “I would really like to offer something in return,” in a very soft, kind tone. But Grace’s attempt to be altruistic is undermined by her selfish motives.

Arrogance and Sacrifices

by Christa

        This clip comes at the end of the film, and here we see Grace and her father discussing why she left him. Her father states that he did not like that she called him arrogant because it is she who is arrogant. To hear that Grace is “arrogant” comes as a surprise because throughout most of the film, Grace is depicted as the victim. We watch her try to help the people of Dogville, only to see her raped and chained towards the end of the film.  Further, for most of the film we see Grace in an open environment. She is moving within an open space, with just chalk demarcating her boundaries; we see her in a performance space. However, in this clip she is in a confined space that is dark and intimate. Von Trier uses this small space with defined walls, and it comes across as a confessional. The confessional small space is a trope of von Trier’s films. For example, there is a similar car scene in Manderlay, and in Antichrist it is in the isolated small cabin that we begin to understand the woman character. In these confessional scenes, it is the men who ends up confessing the truth. In this particular clip, Grace’s father is confessing his thoughts to her, telling what it really means to be arrogant and turning the tables on her. 

For most of the film, we think that Grace is the victim or the moral compass of the film, but at this point the table is turned. Grace’s own father calls her arrogant. He reasons that Grace is arrogant because she believes that no one could possibly attain the same ethical standards as herself, thus she excuses others’ bad behavior. She lets them get away with raping and chaining her, because she does not believe that they can help their own evil human nature. In Grace’s efforts not to pass judgement, she is trying to play God and is arrogant. She tries to control punishment and discipline by taking it all on herself. Thus, at first it seems that Grace is making a sacrifice for Dogville, but with this conversation we begin to see that Grace’s sacrifice is selfish. 

In this way, I think von Trier comments on the compassion and ethical standards of women. He suggests that women want to take on the punishment of the world, but we see that this is not good for anyone. If there is no discipline or punishment, no one really learns right from wrong. When women take on all the punishment, they are making a selfish sacrifice; a sacrifice that helps no one but makes them feel better about themselves.

With women trying to take on all the punishment, does von Trier make a commentary on domestic violence?  Is von Trier suggesting that women who continue to take the violence without calling the police, are acting as unnecessary martyrs?  Shouldn't they stand up for themselves and get out? His work poses the question should women take on all the punishment of evil, or should every man and woman be held accountable for their actions?

Selfish Sacrifice in Lars von Trier's Films

by Michelle Robinson

This clip by will be used to explore the recurrent theme of sacrifice and sacrificial actions in director Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, and Manderlay, specifically in relation to von Trier’s representations of women. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012)

Grace is arrogant

In this clip from director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Grace (Nicole Kidman) is accused by her gangster father (James Caan) of being arrogant, particularly in her attitudes toward the people of Dogville, who were brutal in their treatment of her.

from Dogville (2003)
Creator: Lars von Trier
Distributor: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Posted by Michelle Robinson